COSTA MESA, Calif. (KABC) -- The owner of a Costa Mesa bar has been charged with illegally operating during curfew hours for nonessential businesses during the coronavirus pandemic, prosecutors announced Thursday.
Ronald Michael Barrera, who owns the Westend Bar, is facing one misdemeanor count of violating and neglecting to obey a lawful order and regulation, according to the Orange County District Attorney's Office.
The charges were filed after "repeated attempts" by law enforcement and city code enforcement officers to educate him on the law and seek voluntary compliance, officials added. The 47-year-old Costa Mesa resident and bar owner on numerous occasions allegedly refused to adhere to an order mandating that all nonessential businesses close between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m.
Police, city code enforcement officers and agents from the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) responded to the bar more than once since an emergency lockdown order was issued on Nov. 19.
Prosecutors say the businesses continued to operate on "multiple occasions" outside of the mandated closure times and, at times, hosted 50 to 70 customers without enforcing physical distancing or facial coverings for employees or customers.
"It is unacceptable for a business to repeatedly flaunt the regulations and continue to operate without even attempting to institute any mitigating measures that are designed to save lives. This is not just any business. This is a business that was provided opportunity after opportunity to take corrective action and it has failed to do so," District Attorney Todd Spitzer said in a statement.
In addition, the bar's manager, 26-year-old Luisza Giulietta Mauro, has been charged with one misdemeanor count of resisting a police officer. Mauro allegedly tried to physically prevent the officer from entering the business on Dec. 12, according to the District Attorney's Office.
"This blatant disregard of the local and state health orders is a slap in the face to hardworking business owners who continue to try to do the right thing during these extremely trying times," Spitzer added.
Both Barerra and Maura are set to be arraigned on June 22 and, if convicted, could each face up to a year in jail.
However, the District Attorney's Office said it was hopeful that there will be no new violations and that the case can be resolved through additional education courses through the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control and other educational efforts instead of jail time.
As public health officials express concern over "super-spreader" events that have contributed to the current COVID-19 surge, one business in Santa Ana is also planning to defy coronavirus regulations and host a New Year's Eve party.
A flyer circulating on social media has been advertising food and music until 2 a.m. at Club Azarte.
According to a statement from staff with the county's environmental health division, there have been no complaints filed against the businesses.
"When complaints are received, the O.C. Health Care Agency (HCA) provides education and guidance regarding complying with state and local Health Orders and associated guidance," said Marc Meulman with the agency.
However, residents in the area say the business has seen steady business. One woman who wished to remain unidentified said "party buses come and drop people off to go in there."
Worried about her diabetic mom and her community, local resident Brenda Ortega says something need to happen.
"...To find them or close them down. I get it, everybody wants to work but it's...just being really risky. We have to protect ourselves. If we don't protect ourselves, this thing is not going to go away," she said.